Phantom Menaces? Ethnic Categorization, Loyalty and State Security in Interwar Romania
In this article, I analyze practices of defining and applying concepts of ethnicity, loyalty and state security in Greater Romania. While state policies were based on a basic assumption of the equation of ethnic belonging and loyalty (Romanians being loyal, non-Romanians disloyal), the complexity of the very administrative apparatus and the problems of unification opened up a space in which the concepts of loyalty and ethnicity were contested. The case studies of the use of the term irredentist and the language exams of minority officials in the mid-1930s shed light on a related but different question. The basic equation of loyalty and ethnicity resulted in the use of an otherwise empty concept of irredentism as a term to denote little more than ethnic “otherness,” a vagueness that enabled local authorities to apply it deliberately, either to restrict or to permit members of minorities to engage in activities that had some bearing on questions of identity. The ways in which the language exams were administered indicate the existence of a large group of non-Romanian public officials who were treated by their colleagues and immediate superiors as equal members of a public body serving the nation state, people who in exchange redefined their loyalty and identity as one based primarily on this professional group membership while still preserving their ethnic belonging. These deviations from the basic equation also reveal how the layered and geographically diverse nature of the state administration influenced the contested nature of the ethnic categories.